It is clear that there is deep concern about this important service, as has been demonstrated by the number of letters I have received, the signatures on the petition and the attendance at the public meeting (on a dark winter’s night!)
There is understandable concern to protect rural post offices, on the grounds that they are important parts of a community and help sustain other services in a local area. However, I believe strongly that this argument also holds true in cities, where it is also essential to keep a local ‘heart’- Libraries, GPs and Post Offices all form part of that.
The Post Office are looking to cut another third from their budget, and it is cost that it driving these changes- whether they are closures or franchising. The question is, can any deal be struck between the Post Office, the staff and the Council who own the building in which the Post Office is currently located?
I appreciate that the Council will also want to earn as much rent from the premises as possible, not least because of the massive cut in funding they have had to deal with. But I would hope that a compromise might be reached in the fulfilment of the Council’s general duty to the community.
I have been speaking to the Council and the Post Office - and here is what the Post Office said just before the public meeting:
Dear Ms Buck
We are currently considering expressions of interest for a number of franchise opportunities, including St Johns Wood. We will need to complete the detailed assessment of these before we are ready to communicate any firm proposals for the branch. Consequently if we were to attend this evening’s meeting we would not be able to discuss any potential franchise partner or potential new location of a franchised branch. As such at this stage there would be very little information we could share with customers beyond the fact that we have advertised for a franchise partner.
Once we have a formal proposal at St Johns Wood we will commence a period of public consultation. As part of this we will host a customer forum for members of the public, local stakeholders and other interested parties to speak to representatives of the Post Office so that they can better understand our proposals and how they can input to the public consultation. We will also invite CWU to attend the forum. Our forums are held in a local venue and typically take place over a number of hours spanning the afternoon and evening to ensure they are convenient – we also publicise them via the local press and information in branch as well as alerting the local council and yourself as the local MP. We have been running these forums for many years and find them to be the best way to engage with customers and others on these type of proposals.
Post Office Ltd
And when I contacted them again afterwards:
I do understand how important the Post Office service is to local residents and will of course keep you updated. I can’t give you an indication of timescales yet but any franchise branch typically offers the same services as a Crown Post Office and we will run a public consultation when we have a proposal. I’ll speak to the team managing this about your question around alternative sites for the Crown.
I can assure you that I will continue to make the case as strongly as I can - and we may need to move the campaign up a gear when we get a more specific proposal.
Thank you again
Karen Buck MP
In case you missed it, here’s the Wood and Vale’s coverage of the campaign from late September.